This image, taken via the GEOS East satellite and released by NOAA, shows Hurricane Irene as it passes over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
WASHINGTON - With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the US tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters, $306billion (R3.776 trillion) - it had 16.

Costs are adjusted for inflation and NOAA keeps track of $1 billion weather disasters going back to 1980.

Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in US history hit last year.

Hurricane Harvey, which caused massive flooding in Texas, cost $125bn, second only to 2005’s Katrina, while Maria’s damage in Puerto Rico cost $90bn, ranking third, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

Irma was $50bn, mainly in Florida, for the fifth most expensive hurricane.

Western wildfires fanned by heat racked up $18bn in damage, triple the US wildfire record, according to NOAA.

Besides Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina all had more than $1bn in damage from the 16 weather disasters last year.

“While we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, (many scientific studies) show that some of today's extremes have climate change fingerprints on them,” said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society.

NOAA announced its figures at the society’s annual conference in Austin, Texas.

The US averages six of the $1bn weather disasters each year, costing a bit more than $40bn annually.

The increase in $1bn weather disasters is likely a combination of more flooding, heat and storm surge from climate change along with other non-climate changes, such as where buildings are put, where people move and how valuable their property is, said Deke Arndt, NOAA’s climate monitoring chief.

“Perhaps it is time to mandate urban development in a more resilient and sustainable manner, given the increasing frequency of weather extremes, especially along the nation’s coasts,” Susan Cutter, director of the University of South Carolina’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, said.

The weather agency also said the US, which has had above normal annual temperatures for 21 straight years, was showing the same warming effects as the rest of the world.

The burning of coal, oil and gas emits heat-trapping gases that change Earth’s climate.

This was the third straight year that all 50 states had above average temperatures.

Five states, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Mexico, had their warmest year ever.


Temperature records go back to 1895. - AP